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The Challenge of Vegetables on High Protein Diets

The Challenge of Vegetables on High Protein Diets
Home » Recipes by Ingredients » Vegetables » Tips for veggies in high protein low carb diets

Vegetables have many of the micronutrients that high protein diets like keto or low carb diets are missing. Many people however, find it difficult to add vegetables to a daily meal plan. Often this vegetable challenge is due to a perceived lack of flavor or to lack of experience with simple cooking methods. This guide will help make cooking with vegetables an easy, enjoyable and tasty experience, regardless of the type of diet you are on.

Romano beans with roasted cherry tomatoes in skillet with bowl of sun gold tomatoes on the side.
Romano beans with roasted cherry tomatoes

Jump to: The Need for Vegetables in High Protein Diets | Nutrient Dense Vegetables that are Low Carb | 4 Easy Ways to Add Vegetables | Tips for Cooking Vegetables

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Vegetables’ (and some fruits’) role in a Low Carb or Keto diet

Vegetables offer the micronutrients that you can’t always get from high protein or high fat diets.

Also, getting a good repertoire of mostly low carb veggies under your belt will give you the additional micronutrients you need if you are shying away from the sugar in fruit.  

Infographic showing natural benefits of vegetables.
Infographic showing natural benefits of vegetables.

With respect to fruit, the sugar in fruit (called fructose), can cause an insulin response in a similar way as white processed sugar.  Berries are a bit of an exception here.

Fruit can certainly be healthy (depending on what kind you are eating), but if you are interested in weight loss, fruit is considered “natures candy” and needs to be quite moderate.

Best to save most fruit for cheat days or celebrations and stick with the veggies……if you want to lose weight that is. If your goal is health and not weight loss, more fruit is certainly an option.

blueberries, blackberries and currants on a white plate.
Blueberries, blackberries and currants.

Nutrient Dense Low Carb Vegetables

Many nutritionists rate vegetables according to the micronutrient density per calorie or per cup. Included in nutrient dense vegetables are higher carb sweet potatoes, beets and all types of beans. Eat these in careful moderation if you are counting carbs and stick to low carb vegetables for daily meals!

All the various nutritional sources I researched highlighted the same low carb veggies that were considered nutrient dense.

The list below is nutrient dense vegetables in alphabetical order:

  • Artichoke
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Bell Peppers
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard Greens
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Radish
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Watercress

Some of these vegetables are easily incorporated raw into a daily salad or even a morning smoothie. Others can be quickly and easily roasted or sautéed.

If you are tracking net carbs, the visual vegetable chart below can be helpful.

Infographic showing low carb vegetables
Infographic showing low carb vegetables

Easy Ways to Add Veggies to Low Carb Diets

1. Try adding spinach to a morning smoothie.

Ingredients for low carb protein berry smoothie.
Ingredients: plant milk, spinach, chia seeds, whey protein powder, spinach

2. Daily salads with lemon juice

  • Mixed lettuces such as romaine, arugula, endive, swiss chard, radicchio.
  • Add radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, shredded carrots.
  • You can dress with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice – delicious!

3. Roasting (Sheet Pan Cooking)

Roasting fresh or even frozen veggies is easy! And you can roast in advance, keep refridgerated, and add later to salads or zap in the microwave for a healthy addition to dinner. Check out my post on roasting winter vegetables for more tips. Don’t be afraid to experiment with spices!

I follow these quick steps when roasting veggies:

  • Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
  • Toss both frozen or fresh with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper (do not thaw frozen veggies).
  • Get the sheet pan hot in the oven before adding the vegetables.
  • Roast for 10 to 20 minutes.

Tip: A great way to add flavor to veggies is to drizzle roasted vegetables with a fruit vinegar (aka shrub syrup) towards the end of cooking. Red wine vinegar can work well also, but fruit vinegars add that mystery flavor that really enhances bland food. You can make your own fruit vinegar, or purchase a fruit vinegar of your choice.

4. Sautéing

Sautéing low carb fresh or frozen veggies is also easy (don’t need to thaw frozen vegetables). Sautéing (or stir-frying) has the advantage of keeping the beautiful colors bright and is a nice change from roasted veggies.

You can sauté with a bit olive oil, butter, or a combination. Adding some minced garlic and/or onion can add both micronutrients as well as terrific flavor. This Mediterranean Sautee (stir-fry) Recipe is a great example of the ins and outs of sautéing.

Broccoli cooking in a stainless steel pan.
Sautéed broccoli raab

Tips for the Beginner Vegetable Cook

Although Italian, French and many other cultures have the long tradition of cooking vegetables daily, American cooks are sometimes a bit reluctant to do so.

If you didn’t grow up cooking vegetables, it is likely that the idea is attractive but the thought of cooking vegetable dishes every day when our lives are so busy is less appealing. Why is that?

Vegetables….now that requires a bit of thought.  What recipe to use? How long do you cook them, what method, what spices to add, etc.? 

My two biggest challenges were basic unfamiliarity with recipes and my perception that all that veggie prepping right before dinner was too time consuming.

Common Vegetable Challenges

A. Unfamiliar recipes:

Many American home cooks (myself included) can easily and quickly cook proteins (chicken, pork, red meat) or pasta dishes without a recipe and without much prep. I think that is because we are more familiar with these dishes and don’t have to look up a recipe.

Solution Tip:

Try picking one method for cooking vegetables (i.e., steaming, roasting, or sautéing) and apply it to your favorite nutrient dense vegetable. Cook your chosen vegetable and method 3 times throughout the week. Three times is often the goldilocks number of times to try a new recipe in order to make it familiar, and familiarity equals easy.

B. Vegetable prep time:

Do you think it is just too much trouble to do all that veggie prepping right before dinner? I certainly did! Washing, trimming, chopping – oh my!

Solution Tip:

Plan a day each week to prep ahead the veggies you will use over the next week, and then keep them ready to go in containers in the fridge. Get your family or a friend to help! Or listen to music or a podcast while prepping. Of course you can always buy your veggies pre-cut at the store, but the quality and price are not optimal.

2nd Tip: Frozen veggies can be a great time-saver. They are generally flash frozen and have their nutrients intact, sometimes more than the older “fresh” vegetables you might find on the grocery shelf.

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  1. Annie Riley says:

    Where did you find the Romano beans? Can’t wait to try this recipe!

    • They were at St. Paul market in the middle shed about 1/2 way down on the opposite side of the aisle from me. I didn’t get her name, but I’ll be back Saturday for more. Be sure and tell her I sent you. They are really hard to find. I’ve been looking for them for a while!

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